What Goes Into Protecting North America’s Largest Convention Center

Chicago’s McCormick Place recently received a fully integrated video and access upgrade project involving thousands of custom macros. Here’s an inside look.

What Goes Into Protecting North America’s Largest Convention Center

Conventions are what Chicago’s McCormick Place is known for, yet its new security solution shatters them. (Photo Credit: McCormick Place)

Tailoring to Suit Needs

More specific aspects of the systems, equipment and custom tailoring are as follows . . .

Access Control

Approximately 1,500 doors are monitored by the Genetec software, with 900 having HID iCLASS Seos card readers. The Genetec platform provides numerous reporting capabilities on cardholders, doors, gates and areas of which the end user is taking advantage.

Hundreds of rooms can be controlled with just two mouse clicks. Position switches were included on all doors, some of which were equipped with latch bolt monitors such that propping of doors or tampering with latches triggers alerts within the Genetec system to the EOC.

Most of the door locking hardware is a variety of ASSA ABLOY products. HID Fargo 5000 badge printers with laminators were installed for badging with custom holographic overlays.

Reusable durable paper MIFARE cards are providing cost savings. Zenitel Stentofon intercoms were also placed to meet specialized communication needs. In addition, 1,100 Interlogix door contacts were installed.

McCormick’s access control and video systems are integrated to allow Emergency Operations Center staff instantaneous viewing of people as they enter, exit or otherwise engage with a door or entryway.

Video Surveillance

Approximately 700 primarily Axis cameras of various models appropriate to their location provide real-time situational awareness as well as forensic review capabilities via the Genetec platform.

While analog cameras remain in spots, the system has mostly been converted to IP with predominantly fixed models and a handful of pan/tilt/zooms (p/t/z). In some cases, multisensor IP megapixel cameras have supplanted what in the past would have entailed a p/t/z for that coverage. Bosch license plate recognition (LPR) cameras were also installed in the parking areas.

MPEA’s chief security officer is a deputy chief with the Chicago Police Department, which has a post within McCormick Place, and 100 public cameras surrounding the campus have been federated into the Genetec platform as well.

A FLIR thermal imaging camera is used to detect violators of McCormick Place’s park curfew. Currently, Briefcam is being evaluated as a means to introduce video analytics to the solution.

Systems Integration

The access control and video is seamlessly integrated to allow instantaneous viewing of people as they enter, exit or otherwise engage with a door or entryway. As previously indicated, the project included scores of custom-programmed macros for door control and access level control.

Another interesting feature is when emergency defibrillators located around the campus are accessed it automatically trains the closest camera to help quickly assess those situations.

Fiber optics and Cat-6 cabling infrastructure was deployed to create a high-bandwidth security backbone delivered and routed via Cisco network switching. The project involved a total of more than 193,000 feet of cabling and 55,000 feet of conduit, and also included Altronix power supplies.

Emergency Operations Center

The system is monitored in a centralized EOC dispatch center where users interact with a video wall as well as multiscreen HP workstations. Security personnel use maps of the buildings to monitor cameras and doors as well as control every door with the ability to unlock, lock and activate/deactivate access levels. McCormick Place’s SimplexGrinnell fire system also feeds into the EOC.

Project Executed With Precision

A substantial factor in the McCormick Place undertaking proceeding with nary a hitch must be credited to Videotec’s proven past performance putting similarly large-scale projects safely to bed. It was not uncommon for an entire section within one of the buildings to be completed within a two-week time frame in between booked events.

Fortunately, the integrator had its technique down to a science and avoided any potential problems.

“We were given hard deadlines to complete a total system turnover. These areas had to be fully tested and operational by the deadline as a show was often moving in the next day. Keeping the existing access control system functioning while bringing the new one online was also a challenge,” says Lee.

He provides further details of the successful process Videotec repeated throughout the project: “The new system was installed in parallel with the old system to minimize downtime and disruption for the customer. The fiber infrastructure was installed, servers, workstations and switches were brought online prior to any new panel or new reader being installed. All of the existing cameras were migrated to Genetec from the existing VMS. The panels were preprogrammed, installed and brought online with the doors being preprogrammed into Genetec, so that as soon as the reader was moved to the new system, that door was operational.”

Even the best and most experienced security pros can always learn something new or find ways to improve, and that was the case for Videotec as well. According to Lee, the biggest takeaway was that a portion of the project could have been treated as a software development cycle due to the amount of customization needed. That would have provided more efficiency through the custom macro map integration, he says.

Lee shown with his project leads to his left and McCormick’s Frank Solano and Brett Zelnio to his right.

Operations Successfully Optimized

With the new system in place it did not take long for its value to make itself known — from an operational as well as a security standpoint. The system offers several operational efficiencies from the investigation of incidents to servicing customers with the ability to remotely unlock/lock doors.

However, the greatest efficiency gain, says Lee, was through the use of custom-built access level override maps. What used to take security staff 90 minutes to address, thanks to the access level override maps is now completed in seconds with only a couple of mouse clicks.

The access level override feature allows the user to remove or add predefined access levels on demand to an area, room, bank of rooms or floor through a custom GUI that uses custom-built macros. These GUIs provide a visual indicator of the status of the access levels for each room that was included.

Macros were also created and placed on floor maps to allow the user to unlock all the meeting rooms for a specified time period with the click of a mouse.

It is evident McCormick Place’s management and security department are enjoying the heightened efficiencies and myriad benefits on a daily basis. Of course though, first and foremost the new system has raised the bar on the facility’s security and safety campus-wide.

It is a powerful tool not only for crime deterrence and incident response but also for real-time prevention and forensically for investigations.

According to Solano, shortly after the system went online it was used to help police solve an active case by identifying and leading to the apprehension of a thief using fraudulent credit cards within the complex.

Videotec’s dedication to working closely with Solano, Zelnio and staff to ensure system capabilities best support McCormick’s needs has cemented the relationship.

“Videotec went out of its way to understand what we wanted and how we wanted it — going well beyond the minimal,” says Zelnio. Lee adds the project established a bond with the end user and deepened its partnership with Genetec. “This installation has built a relationship with the client that has already led to more business, and is one we expect to only grow stronger with time.”

About the Author


Scott Goldfine is Editor-in-Chief and Associate Publisher of Security Sales & Integration. Well-versed in the technical and business aspects of electronic security (video surveillance, access control, systems integration, intrusion detection, fire/life safety), Goldfine is nationally recognized as an industry expert and speaker. Goldfine is involved in several security events and organizations, including the Electronic Security Association (ESA), Security Industry Association (SIA), Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC), False Alarm Reduction Association (FARA), ASIS Int'l and more. Goldfine also serves on several boards, including the SIA Marketing Committee, CSAA Marketing and Communications Committee, PSA Cybersecurity Advisory Council and Robolliance. He is a certified alarm technician, former cable-TV tech, audio company entrepreneur, and lifelong electronics and computers enthusiast. Goldfine joined Security Sales & Integration in 1998.

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